Thursday, July 24, 2008

MacArthur on Pragmatism

Pragmatism is defined as:

A philosophical movement or system having various forms, but generally stressing practical consequences as constituting the essential criterion in determining meaning, truth, or value.

Pragmatism happens to be the dominant philosophical assumption in much of the modern church - even among many who consider themselves to be evangelicals.  The hallmark of pragmatism is the focus on the question, "does it work."  Results are, at the end of the day, the criteria for assessing the relative rightness of any system, endeavor, or question.  Whether a thing is right winds up being a secondary concern; the "rightness" of a thing is more a function of how well it "works" than it is of how it corresponds with what is objectively right and true.  Therefore, something may be in a "grey area" but still be considered copasetic simply because it "works," and that "at least we're doing something."

Notice that: the emphasis is on action, and only then - and at least somewhat peripherally - on the essential rightness of that action.

Translation: the most crucial consideration of all is results.

As I'd already said: pragmatism is the dominant philosophical assumption in much of the modern church. Even many of my brothers-in-arms, while vociferously and vigorously denying that they have taken the pragmatist blue pill, effectively operate under pragmatistic premises.

I have heard from these guys things like:

Hey, that church has the most number of converts ever, and they're in the least churched area in the universe, man!

It's all about Sunday {{usually defended because either (a) "that's our culture, man!" or (b) that's when you get the most "bang for your buck" - both of which are quintessentially pragmatistic answers}}

Hey, man...doesn't the Bible say, "to him who knows to do good and does not do it, for him it is sin...?" {{...without defining what "good" is, and who it is who gets to define what "good" is, and how it is He defines it; "good" in this case is defined pretty much solely in terms of results}}

At least we're reaching people {{with what doesn't factor in as much as how - does the method of "reaching" mitigate the Gospel? Be honest, now...}}

And again, the classical pragmatistic answer when confronted about supporting something that is at the very least morally questionable, like providing condoms to teenagers "so that at least they don't spread AIDS and get pregnant"...:

Hey - at least we're doing something...!  What are you doing?  What do you suggest? if in order to militate against doing something morally questionable, we have to present another alternative which produces at least comparable results. The rightness of the action is a secondary consideration; it's the results of the action which are all-important.

Look - actions are important.  The Gospel is an active thing; our God is an active God. You can believe all day long, but if you don't do, your belief is worthless - James tells us that.  I can sit and pontificate all day long on what the Bible objectively teaches, but if I don't put that into practice, then I have become worse than an infidel and have denied the faith.

Absolutely.  Amen.

But, those actions that I take are and must be predicated firmly upon what God has revealed as being right and good.

In other words, my first consideration is, "is this right?" Results, at this point, do not even begin to factor into the equation. Completely aside from results, the question needs to be squarely faced, is what I'm considering true, noble, just, pure, lovely, of good report, virtuous, and praiseworthy, as God defines it?  If not - no matter what "results" may or may not devolve from that conclusion - then I cannot take that action as a faithful, obedient Christian.

There is an anecdote that I live by:

The obedience is mine; the results are His.

I am not called to be overly concerned about results; I am called to be very concerned about faithfulness and obedience.

The Bible says,

Moreover it is required in stewards that one be found faithful.

Interesting,  It is required in stewards that one be found faithful - not:

  • that one be found fruitful
  • that one be found with super-duper results
  • that one be found doing the most things

Fruitfulness, results, and action are all very important in the equation of faithful Christian obedience.  But they are subordinal to the issue of right action, right results, and the right sort of fruit.

Johnny Mac, in his blog, just posted an absolutely brilliant article on this very subject of pragmatism, and how this really isn't anything new; the modern focus on "yeah, but does it work...?" which in turn leads to accommodation is something that the church has encountered before - numerous times.  Namely, in this article he compares the modern pragmatistic climate with the Down-Grade Controversy of a century ago - and examines the effects of pragmatism.

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